By: Ganga Goddess
As quarantine restrictions begin to lift, we’re all thinking about what the new normal will look like. Well, imagine swishing cannabis-based mouthwash as part of your daily coronavirus prevention morning routine. It could become a reality. Canadian research scientists at the University of Lethridge, working together with medical cannabis research and development company Pathway RX, and cannabinoid-based oral health company Swysh, recently published a study with preliminary evidence that cannabis may suppress COVID-19 infection through the oral cavity. Oral care, like mouthwash and throat gargle products, could become an important potential avenue for disease prevention.
Canadian research scientists at the University of Lethridge studied more than 800 strains of cannabis to identify whether any of them would suppress the virus from finding a host in lungs, intestines, or the oral cavity. They ultimately identified 13 cannabis sativa strains that have the most potential, and ultimately found that the effective end strains were high in cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD), which known for its anti-inflammatory properties. The research team found strains with a high concentration of CBD may help block proteins that provide a gateway for COVID-19 to enter host cells but did not identify favorable ratios of THC to CBD, nor suggest that cannabis a curative measure. The results only indicated that cannabis may be deemed useful as an adjunct, or additional therapy.
Using 3-D models of human tissue to simulate and map out how each strain might impact infections, scientists monitored each strain’s ability to modulate ACE2 levels, which is an enzyme previously linked to COVID-19 infection. Lead researcher Dr. Igor Kovalchuk stressed the importance of creating an internal environment that is hostile to infection. According to Kovalchuk, “A number of [weed strains] have reduced [virus receptors] by 73%. If they can reduce the number of receptors, there’s much less chance of getting infected.”
The results of the pre-clinical study were published in journal Pre-prints, a multidisciplinary peer review platform. The implications are interesting but the study leaves room for skepticism. Since it’s pre-clinical, the hypothesis has not yet been tested in humans. Since the study has not yet been peer- reviewed, there is also no clarity on the ideal ratio of THC to CBD, or even confirmation on whether CBD is the active ingredient, or if the sativa strains have something else in common that makes them effective.
However, the implications are interesting. Cannabis has been a part of the national COVID-19 conversation almost from the start of the viral outbreak. Dispensaries were declared essential at the height of business closures and patients have been curious about cannabis as a possible preventative measure. Some patients have wondered out loud whether cannabis, which is already used as an alternative treatment for cancer and other autoimmune diseases, may potentially have preventative or curative applications. Since the list of medical applications for cannabis is long, many users are likely to be among the vulnerable populations that are disproportionately affected.
Ultimately, the search for a vaccine and a possible cure has led researchers down conventional and less than conventional paths. Calls to local poison control offices even spiked once the chief government official basically suggested drinking bleach as preventative measure (please, PLEASE don’t drink bleach. It’s extremely dangerous and will definitely endanger you and possibly your life). Although, the latest conversations have focused on hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, if this study moves to clinical trials and coronavirus prevention methods are ultimately integrated into oral health care, it could possibly have implications to destigmatizing cannabis and in pushing federal legalization efforts forward. If cannabis is ultimately determined to be an aid in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, legislators might be convinced to remove federal restrictions.
As the abstract notes, “Given the current dire and rapidly evolving epidemiological situation, every possible therapeutic opportunity and avenue must be considered”. The future outlook is extremely interesting.